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John Kerry's Big Speech Tonight

Aired July 29, 2004 - 20:30   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I pointed out earlier that Willie Nelson is going to be performing here. That's coming up at the Democratic National Convention. Willie Nelson, as many of our viewers probably remember, he had endorsed Dennis Kucinich for the presidential nomination, now supports, of course, John Kerry. Carole King is going to be performing here, as well. She's going to be singing "You've got a Friend." John Kerry's got a lot of friends here, at the Democratic National Convention.
We showed you our "Delegate Diary" just a few moments ago and one of the delegates who's been roaming around with his camera is delegate Dan Nygun of California. He's there right now.

And you got your camera, Dan. Tell us what you're showing, what you're seeing. There it is there. Well, actually, we can't talk to Dan, but we can see your camera. That's what Dan is filming right now, what he's shooting on his camera trying to get a little flavor of what's happening behind the scenes.

This is pretty neat, Jeff Greenfield, to try to get a little different kind of flavor, an unprofessional photographer doing this kind of work.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Delegate cam should like something David Letterman might be doing in New York. This whole convention has been electronically transformed from the days when I first started covering it.

Up there in the cheap seats we've got bloggers are being connected to people sending to their Web site. You've got people photographing journalists who are interviewing bloggers, interviewing journalists. But, you know what? It still comes down to what message comes out of this convention. How enthusiastic these delegates are more important, how it's played out in the homes....

BLITZER: And you know, Judy, this -- the remarkable technology takes me back in January, all of us remember Iowa when we had that caucus cam, we were watching those Iowa caucuses and a lot of us were surprised when we saw some of those results.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Those, at one point, those were secret -- almost secret proceedings, but we found out, you know, you can walk in there with a camera. We had some delegates in there, we had our own people in there and you're right, the results were a surprise. We -- everybody had expected Howard Dean, although in the last -- to be honest in the last few days before they gathered it became clear that John Edwards and John Kerry were doing a little better.

GREENFIELD: I have to say it occurs to me, as you talk about the packed hall and it gets hot here. I think it was in 1924 when the democrats took 103 ballots in more than two weeks to pick their presidential candidate and what it would have been like trying to cover that one. We'd be in homes by two weeks from now.

WOODRUFF: They had fans, though.

BLITZER: One of the themes that we're going to be hearing lot about tonight is Vietnam, the Vietnam War, John Kerry's role in that Vietnam War when he volunteered to become a sailor and he served as a commander on a so-called swiftboat that moved up the Mekong Delta.

CNN's Kelly Wallace has been taking a look back and seeing what's been going on.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we followed all of his orders.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John Kerry's band of brothers, four of the men who served with him in Vietnam.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He wanted to blend in with us. He wanted to fit right in, so he came onboard just being one of the regular guys. I like that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come up and put his hand you and ask you how you're doing. Are you OK? You know, after a rough day and I never heard the man scold anybody on the -- for what they was doing.

WALLACE: Day in, day out?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was just John.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Behind his back, his nickname was "Sir."

WALLACE: That was his nickname?


WALLACE (voice-over): They served aboard Swiftboat 94 which then Lieutenant Kerry commanded in early 1969. Fred Short says Kerry gave one call before each mission along Vietnam's dangerous canals.

FRED SHORT, VIETNAM VETERAN: He would say, "Saddle up, tigers," and that was our cue to load our guns, put our helmets on, and put on our flak jackets and we were going into harm's way.

WALLACE: They remember coming under heavy fire February 28, 1969. Kerry ordered Helmsman Sandusky to beat the boat, something a Swiftboat officer is not supposed to do. Kerry's target -- an armed Vietnam soldier.

SHORT: This V.C. popped up out of this fire hole with this V-40 rocket sitting on his shoulder and he and I are eyeball to eyeball, I'm trying to bring my gun steady (ph). I can literally can see the mustache and the hair, the small hair growing on his face and the color of his eyes.

WALLACE: Kerry ran after and killed the enemy soldier which earned him the Silver Star.

SHORT: If he hadn't done that, you and I would not be having this conversation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That Vietcong soldier was just looking to light us up like a Roman candle.

WALLACE: And they remember the day in March 1969 when Green Beret Jim Rasman went overboard during a firefight. Kerry, shot in the arm, came to his rescue, a move which would earn him a Bronze Star.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Even though he was wounded, right, he still had me stop the boat and reached down and picked up Rasman -- helped Rasman to get back up on the boat. It took a special kind of a boat officer to get us psyched up to go back out and again tomorrow, and again and again and again and again and again.

WALLACE (on camera): How did he do it, though? How did he do it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He always made the right decisions. We always came out alive.

WALLACE (voice-over): Other swiftboat veterans say Kerry was looking to build a political career and politicked for his three Purple Hearts which allowed him to leave Vietnam early.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He never suffered any serious wound of any kind. His wounds, if at all, were trivial and un-inconsequence (sic).

WALLACE: Another critic, one of his commanding officers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's basing much of his political career on four months and 12 days that he spent in country.

WALLACE (on camera): How angry does that make you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, I get upset about it, but that's their opinion. You know? You see, I was there with John in combat fighting with him and I think the thing that troubles me most about this is that they didn't say these things about him when he was there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is a veteran, he's been there. He's caught the bullet. So he knows what it's like.

WALLACE (voice-over): This band of brothers, hoping to send one of their own to the White House.

Kelly Wallace, CNN, Boston. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And Judy Woodruff, we're going to be hearing a lot more about the whole Vietnam War experience, especially in this nine minute Steven Spielberg produced biographical film that they'll play here later tonight.

WOODRUFF: That's right. And Wolf, the model of this came out of the '92 Bill Clinton convention when Hollywood producer, Harry Thomason and his wife Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, put together an extraordinary video about Bill Clinton's life. At that time, he was not well-known, like John Kerry isn't well-known, although he has served almost 30 years in the Senate. That film, the place called hope, "The Man from Hope" really helped propel Bill Clinton out of that convention and on to victory.

BLITZER: Steven Spielberg is a little bit better at making films than Harry Thomason and Linda Bloodworth-Thomason fact, with all due respect to them.

GREENFIELD: Well, in fact, the film has now become a basic part of this. In '88, George Herbert Walker Bush had footage of him as a young pilot being fished out of an aircraft carrier. A lot of controversy about all this. Charges (UNINTELLIGIBLE) on the grudge report that perhaps some of that was deliberately shot as Kelly's piece implied for several reasons. Maybe they were -- they accused him reenacting some of this.

BLITZER: They flatly deny that?

GREENFIELD: Right. And there are 20 -- and the evidence seems to be against that, but there are 21 swiftboat veterans who have been attacking Kerry. The Bush campaign is walking a tightrope, they want nothing to do with that officially, but they are perfectly happy to hear other veterans say, you know, when he came back home, he didn't protect the Vietnam guys by protesting the war.

WOODRUFF: Well, that's what's made them so angry, is that John Kerry came home and he turned against the war. He was turning against the war while he was in Vietnam, when he came home, he became a full opponent of the war, he testified before the Congress. He made some very strong, strong charges against his fellow soldiers, for what he said that they had done in Vietnam and some of these Vietnam veterans to this day, Wolf and Jeff, hold that against him.

BLITZER: It's a double-edged sword, if you will.

GREENFIELD: It is and it also reminds us that John Kerry who we're all talking about, his speech tonight -- John Kerry became a national figure in 1971 as a young man or 27 or 28 when he went to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and with a single presentation, no -- who -- you know, how do you tell a man to be the last man to die for a mistake? I'm almost wondering if we're going to hear an echo of that line tonight with respect to Iraq.

BLITZER: A powerful statement. CNN's Candy Crowley is up on the podium. John Kerry will be speaking from the podium. Candy, you spent a lot of time with John Kerry, you put an excellent biographical piece on him on "CNN PRESENTS" that aired Sunday night. Give us a little flavor of how important this video tonight, might be.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly, it's important to this venue, as far as how many people are going to see it out there through the tube, that's a whole another thing. More important to the Kerry people, at this point, is just the idea of this military service as it translates into this man is a leader. Because you can ask him time and time again, well what about Bill Clinton, because he didn't go to Vietnam. Does that mean he shouldn't have been elected president? And they'll tell you this is post-9/11. This is difference. The country's are at war.

What they have to do is make the case as to why the American people, in the midst of a war, which the Kerry people say we are in the midst of, as do the Bush people -- why you would switch forces? It's a very difficult thing for voters to do in the middle of a crisis like this. So what they're trying to do is say, look, he understands war, he knows war. But it's also a fine line. I think you've heard from some of these veterans saying, OK, but it was 30 years ago and what have you done since and is that necessarily what makes you a good president?

So this will be -- you know, so far, it seems to me that what they have done is allowed other people to tell his story. They're going to allow this film to tell his story. And I'm told that in this speech he has some anecdotes from various parts of his life and then will apply those anecdotes on how he came to his policy decisions and how he came to get to the core of his values, that sort of thing. I don't think you're going to have a long extensive explanation of him with what when on in Vietnam. He's going to leave that up to other people.

BLITZER: Candy Crowley's up on the podium. Candy, thanks very much. Bill Schneider is watching all of this, as well.

Briefly Bill, give us your take on the whole Vietnam War issue and John Kerry.

BILL SCHNEIDER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: There is this spectacular irony at this convention. This is an anti-war party. This party comes out of the anti-bowels of the anti-war movement, against the Vietnam War, these delegates are deeply, deeply committed to opposition to the war in Iraq, yet they're nominating a man who voted for that war and so did his running mate. They are voting for a man and promoting his service as a Vietnam War hero. That is why he got the nomination -- a Vietnam War hero. I do not think they're going to play up his anti-war protest activity. Believe me, the republicans will. One of the things we'll be watching for tonight is how often will he mention the fact that he was not just a war hero, but an anti-war leader.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider, thanks very. We're about to hear -- we're all about to be entertained by Willie Nelson, he's going to be singing here. I want to go behind the scenes now, in addition to CNN and all the other television news networks having a control room and directors. There's a Hollywood producer/director Don Messer (ph) who's basically sitting up the entire seat inside. Let's go into his control room and hear him direct the stage, getting ready for Willie Nelson.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John Kerry the middle class and we're going to win this election. God bless America. Thank you.

DON MESSER, PRODUCER/DIRECTOR: OK. Go neutral. Go neutral. Good. And...

ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, an American legend, Willie Nelson!

MESSER: Go Willie! (UNINTELLIGIBLE) if you can.

Stand by -- no, no, no! No! No! Let me cue it, man!


BLITZER: Willie Nelson, singing here at the Democratic National Convention, we're also standing by. Carole King shall be performing here as well! The children and stepchildren of John Kerry, they'll be speaking, that's coming up followed by John Kerry, himself, his acceptance speech. Much more of our special coverage when we come back.


ANNOUNCER: In 1908, William Jennings Bryan became the all-time losing candidate even to though lost twice before, the democrats nominated him again. He lost the White House a third time. Nobody has ever done that.


BLITZER: The former Secretary of State Madeline Albright right now speaking. This is where John Kerry shortly will be walking into the Fleet Center, through this corridor, right here, you it pretty clear. This may be the only spot here in the Fleet Center that is devoid of people. Every place else, every inch literally is full -- full of people. John Kerry will be walking through -- he'll actually be walking through the crowd. A carefully choreographed walk through some battleground states before he steps up to that podium and delivers his acceptance speech. Of course, we'll have extensive live coverage of all of that, including his children and stepchildren will be speaking in advance of John Kerry.

Let's bring in CNN's Aaron Brown and Carlos Watson. They're watching all of this. They've got some perspective as well -- Aaron.

AARON BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thank you Wolf. Carlos, good evening to you. I think Bill Clinton did a long walk into his second convention. What always strikes me about nights like this is the stakes. And they're one-sided. You can't win the election on a night like this, with the 25 million people watching you could lose one.

CARLOS WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Very much so. And I think that John Kerry, the month of August clearly will be President Bush's in many ways. Not only do you have the convention at the end of the month, but I think the Olympics could end up being the stage for President Bush, an opportunity to meet and greet athletes, an opportunity to meet and greet leaders so John Kerry's opportunity to seize a lead in the polls will really come tonight in many ways.

BROWN: Let's talk about the Olympic thing, I hadn't thought about that. I -- my sense on the Olympics, and it is so purely conventional wisdom, it scares me, is that everybody's going to tune out the campaign for those couple of weeks and focus on Athens and not politics.

WATSON: But if you're President Bush, think about the two smart things you can do. First and foremost you can congratulate the winners, you can be seen with them as any incumbent president would do and No. 2 there's an opportunity to get on the stage with some of the international leaders and say "I may not cooperate with them always, but I certainly can be civil." And for a compassionate conservative that could be an important photo op.

BROWN: Do you think anything that has happened in the convention, so far, has changed the dynamic of the race?

WATSON: You know who's changed the dynamic of the race? None other than Barack Obama, and I tell you why. Barack Obama came out of here, not only with a speech that unified the convention, but excited people that there's a fresh new face and I predict even before he gets elected, he becomes an important campaigner surrogate for democrats, not only in the Midwest, but in other parts of the country as well.

BROWN: But, how does that change the calculations that the president's campaign has to make? Has anything changed what the Bush people want to do in this campaign?

WATSON: So if you put it from that perspective, then No. I still think you'll hear continued conversation about taxes and the economy. You'll still hear the charge about flip-flop and we'll hear more about values and again I think the issue of the death penalty is one of the values issues that you'll hear more about in the coming weeks and certainly on national security, you'll continue to hear them say -- while we respect his service in Vietnam, there's still more work to be done and the president is willing to make the hard choices even with imperfect intelligence.

BROWN: And one more question, does it surprise someone of your age, a little bit younger than I.

WATSON: I appreciate that. BROWN: A lot younger -- that Vietnam is still the kind of issue that it is. It's not a foreground issue, of course, but it is lurking in this campaign, both war service, how people served, how they managed to avoid going to Vietnam, what they did after they came from Vietnam -- does it surprise you that Vietnam this a long ago war, must seem that way to you, does to me, in many ways -- is still out there?

WATSON: No. I guess in some ways because part of what -- why we're talking about Vietnam is because of the personal stories of the campaigners, the candidates. And no matter whether it's a World War II story or a Vietnam story or a Korea story, we're always going to talk about that. The other thing is, with the shadow of Iraq and with the comparisons that are being made, I think it's a parallel that you heard Max Cleland, the former senator from Georgia draw earlier. So I'm not surprised and I don't think it'll go away over the next 96 days.

BROWN: Carlos, thank you. Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right Aaron. Thanks very much, Aaron. Of course we'll have a special edition of "NEWSNIGHT" tonight, 11:00 p.m. Eastern after the John Kerry speech. That will be followed by a second live "LARRY KING LIVE" at midnight Eastern. We're standing by, Larry King standing by to come up here, momentarily. He's a good show lined up, as well.

Jeff, we heard Aaron and Carlos talk about Vietnam. You've been thinking a lot about this.

GREENFIELD: Well, to pick up on Bill Schneider's point about the irony. You go back to the last democrat who ran on a war record and it was another JFK (UNINTELLIGIBLE), John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Those of us old enough to remember that campaign remember the pictures of Kennedy as a young, scrawny guy, performed heroically in the Solomon Islands The symbol of his campaign was the PT-109 tie clasp with the ship. And now you go ahead and you look at these pictures, some of which you'll be seeing tonight, of a young scrawny John Forbes Kerry on that swiftboat, in the Mekong Delta in 1969, 1970. And the idea, I think is because of John Kerry's post Vietnam record, coming to prominence as a protester, with angry words about Vietnam, a part of this is an issue that probably will only go away when that generation -- our generation is gone. I think that's part of the peril. They saw what it did for John Kennedy. They need it even more with John Kerry because of the resentment that that anti-war caused, Wolf.

BLITZER: JFK -- John F. Kennedy, John F. Kerry.

WOODRUFF: That's right and John Kerry has played up the connection he, you know, there's a famous story that was told. He was dating the sister of Jackie Kennedy when Jackie Kennedy was in the White House, Janet Auchincloss, and went to the Kennedy estate and President Kennedy happened to be there. He made much of that. He apparently studied President Kennedy just over an afternoon. But, it has become part of the lure of John Kerry for all these years. People knew he was ambitious. They knew he looked at the Kennedy family and John Kennedy in particular as a role model, if you will, so in many ways, tonight, Wolf, this is all of that coming full.

GREENFIELD: The point about the Purple Heart that we hear, that his wounds were trivial, I think I can guarantee that the Bush campaign wants to stay away from that a lot because of the questions about President Bush's service. They don't want a comparison of John Kerry's Purple Heart wounds and George W. Bush's military service.

WOODRUFF: But, I think they're very happy for others who bring it up.

GREENFIELD: That's right.

WOODRUFF: They are very happy for other who aren't necessarily connected to the campaign to bring it up.

BLITZER: The center mantra (PH) for the Bush people, the Bush spokesman, all of them make the point, "We honor his service in Vietnam. It's his service in the United States senate that we question the flip-flop, the votes on national security" that's the point they always make, you've heard it a million times.

WOODRUFF: That's right. And the 30 years since. I mean we heard it, we -- you know, we were sitting here talking to Ralph Reed last night and he says "what about the 30 years since, what's he done since then?"

GREENFIELD: And the Bush -- sorry, the Bush campaign was perfectly happy to release a statement about 21 Medal of Honor winners on their letterhead -- on their Web site, questioning not his service, but his attacks on President Bush's record on veterans. It's a very complicated three-dimensional chess game they're doing here.

WOODRUFF: Quickly, Wolf, another point the veterans who are with John Kerry are making is that the Bush administration, in their view, has not funded the Veteran's Administration and the veterans hospitals and is this a major issue with veterans in this country.

BLITZER: All right guys, we're going to take a quick break. We have a lot more coverage coming up. We're going to be hearing, shortly, from the children and stepchildren of John Kerry. We'll hear from his fellow Vietnam war veterans from that Swiftboat that he commanded in the Mekong Delta. We'll be hearing from Max Cleland, the former senator from Georgia, he'll be introducing John Kerry and, of course, his acceptance speech.

Larry King is standing by getting ready to take over. We'll take a quick break. Much more coverage from the Democratic National Convention at the Fleet Center in Boston.


ANNOUNCER: In 1984, Walter Mondale's speech at the Democratic Convention is marked as the beginning of the end.

WALTER MONDALE, FMR. DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATE: Mr. Reagan will raise taxes, And so will I. He won't tell you, I just did. ANNOUNCER: He won only his home state Minnesota and Washington, D.C.




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